From fact to fiction

The last few weeks have been full of new experiences and much new learning. When things slow down a bit I’ll try to collect my thoughts about all of that, especially what I’ve learned about being interviewed and how to stay calm when you’re on the phone, live, to a lot of people listening in other states. I’m still a real beginner but the best things so far (for me, anyway) have been the encouragement and feedback. Readers tell me their thoughts about my book and their own reasons for a personal connection with the story. Messages from reviewers and writers have also meant a lot to me.

It’s also been a busy time of moving on with writing something new and that feels strange, with so much interest now in John and Georgiana Molloy, having so many conversations about them and answering questions about researching their lives, at the same time as I’m travelling  further into the new manuscript I’ve been working on for the last six months. It’s fiction so it’s another challenge but I deliberately set out to find out what would happen for me as a writer if I stepped way beyond my comfort zone.

The extended pathways of research over the last decade meant that I collected a huge amount of interesting material that ended up being filed away and was never used.  But there were a few things – tiny, colourful pieces from hidden lives – that lodged in my memory and kept burrowing away into my imagination. I couldn’t let them go and last year I decided to find a way of bringing those parts together and adding new elements to make a complete story. I thought fiction would be so easy in comparison with writing a historical biography… After all, you can just make it up! But it’s not easy. It’s difficult. Yet it’s difficult in the same delicious, mind-stretching way because it still involves choosing words and putting them next to one another in the very best way you can.

Family anecdotes and old, old documents like this one from Georgiana’s history started me off on an exploration of someone else’s world, one that I had to create rather than find. But it still feels like ‘finding’ and the people in this narrative have already become real to me in a way I’d never, ever anticipated. The strangest thing of all, so far, has been the way a new character appears in front of me in the scene I’m writing. The whole book is planned and researched and plotted and yet someone I wasn’t expecting suddenly walks onto the stage and I realise they were part of the story all along. I just hadn’t met them yet.

Publication Day!

Tomorrow, March 22, is the publication date for the new Picador edition of ‘Georgiana Molloy, the Mind That Shines’. We’ll be celebrating a happy ending to more than a decade of work and a year of self-publishing but with so much going on it feels like an exciting new beginning at the same time.

I’m so happy with the wonderful job that publisher Alex Craig and editor Jodi Devantier at Picador have done with the book, and the new interior design and subtly updated cover from Lauren Wilhelm.  There are two more sections of new colour images and I finally have the hand-drawn maps I’d hoped for in the first edition – which had to fall by the way in early 2015 when we reached our budget limit.

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The best thing of all at the moment is having the opportunity to talk to so many people about the book. I can’t say I look forward to the nerves involved in recording live radio interviews that will air in every state, but it feels fantastic knowing that the outcomes of my research into Georgiana’s life will be reaching so far in the next few weeks. My original objective was to make the story publicly available, even if that meant printing fifty copies at home and sending them to libraries or just publishing the book on a website.

In the new edition, a few extra lines appear in the list of thanks, including an acknowledgement of the hard work of the whole team at Picador; so many people contributed their skill to the final lovely package. There’s also an expression of gratitude to my agent, Martin Shaw of the Alex Adsett Literary Agency, who’s done so much to support and encourage from the very first tentative email I sent him on 21 July last year. He’s simply the best and I could not be luckier.

And there’s another important addition to that list: ‘Huge and heartfelt thanks go to the many bookshops and other retailers who supported the self-published book in 2015 and started it on its journey.’ Booksellers shared their enthusiasm with readers and did a great deal to keep sales flying high.

Finally, I’m so glad that the book being published tomorrow still has the same statement on its very first page – and nothing else – just the acknowledgement of country. It was a personal choice for me in March 2015 and Picador have retained it in this new edition.

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